I’ve been asked many times to do a tutorial on pattern grading, so here it is!
DISCLAIMER: This is how I grade up most of my patterns. I am by no means an expert. Take caution when grading up a pattern.
Pattern Grading series
When I first started using sewing patterns as a pre-teen, I didn’t even know that such things existed as grading patterns. I learned basic sewing at a young age from my grandma and my mom and later in 4-H and high school. I never altered the pattern nor did I stray from the instructions. I knew nothing about grading to different sizes to fit my measurements or using a sloper. Luckily, I was able to cut a straight size out and didn’t have to worry about any of those things.
And then I became a woman. I would find patterns in my size and sew them. But then there were those patterns that did not come in my size… although very close… and I started out by making the seam allowances narrower. This method worked for me, although I would not say that the fit was spot on. Sometimes things were a little tight or a little too loose. I generally would just pick the size closest to my measurements rather than choosing my exact measurements. Of course this usually meant that the bodice was too big as my hip/thigh measurements were never set up in the same way as the hourglass sizes on the pattern envelope. I experimented a bit and figured out how to grade the sizes up in increments and how to slope my measurements so that I could fit the pattern to me rather than hoping that I would fit the pattern.
This method works with multi-size patterns.
This is straight up grading from the average sizing of the pattern, not plus size grading.
This method may not work for everyone, although I use it to grade up nearly every pattern that I use.
First off, if this your first time grading up a pattern, I recommend using a pattern company with sizing that you are familiar with. Some patterns have a lot of ease, so your finished product may end up larger (or sometimes smaller) than you wish. Pay attention to the finished garment sizes on the envelope.
Second, I did not trace these patterns onto tracing paper. If this is your first time grading, I recommend tracing your patterns first and then grading up. I rarely trace patterns unless they are vintage. I don’t have to do many alterations to patterns like FBA’s and honestly find tracing time consuming, especially since I like to try out a lot of patterns.
These are the tools that I use when grading patterns:
- Fabric Marker
- Design Curve Ruler
I like to use both clear and solid rulers. You could get away without using a curve, but it will make your life easier if you have one. I am also using paper cutting scissors for this, not my fabric shears (although these are former shears…). The chalk and fabric marker are for grading on fabric (which I do not recommend if you’re a beginner).
The Patterns I’m Using
These are both beginner patterns from companies I am familiar with and fairly easy to grade up. The Belcarra is a pdf version which you could grade up without tracing for most of the pattern pieces.
Find Your Size
I start off by looking at the measurements on the size chart and sizing up according to the patterns’ sizes. I then figure out my size based on the measurements. Sometimes I am mid-way between sizes and will grade between the two upgraded sizes.
Using your ruler, measure the increments between sizes. With the Hazel, you’ll notice that the increments between the upper sizes are larger than the smaller ones. This is not so with the Belcarra. This is where making a muslin of your graded up pattern will come in handy.
Now, take your ruler and measure how far you need to go out from the pattern sizes and mark it. With the bodice on the Hazel, I am only grading up one size, so I marked one increment. For the Belcarra, I am going up 3 1/2 sizes, so I multiply my measurement from Step 1 times 3.5 and use that measurement when grading up. I find the easiest way to do this is by setting ruler on the pattern lines and drawing a line out to your selected measurement, going up every 1/2 – 1 inch or so all the way around the pattern piece, angling my ruler as I go along to follow the pattern lines. When you are between the pattern sizes, you can measure in increments to fit your size at different points on the pattern and slope your ruler to fit these. This can be a bit tricky and will take a bit of practice.
I then take my ruler and connect the marks that I’ve made. As you can see on the Hazel, it gets a little messy using a pen on the pattern paper and I should have used a pencil!
Obviously, your body is not all straight rectangles and squares, so this is where your curve comes in. You use it to draw your curves, and oh, how it makes life easier!! Of course, you could draw lines without the curve if you so wish.
After you’re done grading your pattern, cut it out! Make sure that you’ve also graded up the darts and markings as well, using the same method of increments. As we are doing a straight up grading from the average size, you may not fit the new dart placement, so make sure that you make a muslin first, so that you can check the placements and get the fit you want.
Then you’re done and ready to roll!! Time to cut out your fabric and sew it up!
If your grading is off by a hair, don’t stress about it. You can usually fix that when you’re sewing. Sometimes my edges are not perfect and when I sew it up and finish the seams, it all magically disappears. 🙂
The most important thing to remember is to take your time. It might seem like a daunting task when you’re starting out, but you’ll get the hang of it and it will be easy and second nature to you from then on.
I don’t have any experience in grading down patterns, but I would imagine that you would go the opposite direction from the smallest size if you were using this method.
I rarely take the time these days to draw out all of the increments on my pattern pieces as I have graded up many patterns now (not sure of the exact number– but I’d say it’s around 50 at the moment, possibly higher…). I am pretty good at eyeballing things and I often grade up my pattern directly on my fabric. I measure out the increments and mark with chalk where I’m going to cut. The above photo is me doing this on the Hazel skirt and you can see my chalk marks where I’m going to cut. Take caution when going this route. It took a lot of practice for me to get to that point. If you want to try it this way, I recommend doing it first on your muslin. BTW, white muslin works great for making markings and grading up patterns! Just a bit unruly compared to tracing paper (I prefer Swedish tracing paper).
Whew! You’re Done!
Time to take a break!
If I missed anything in this tutorial or a certain aspect of the instructions are not clear, please let me know and I will amend this post. This is my first sewing tutorial, so I’m learning as I go. 🙂
Happy Pattern Grading!